State-sponsored discrimination at the Western Wall.
Women of the Wall met for Rosh Hodesh Tammuz prayers this morning at the Western Wall with 300 women in attendance in the women’s section and over 100 men in support.
Frannie Werner and her family came from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah ceremony, which they began planning over six months ago. This was the family’s first time in Israel and at the Western Wall. Women of the Wall vowed to ensure that Frannie would read from a Torah scroll, despite the attempts made by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall, to prevent women and girls from accessing Torah scrolls at the holy site. There are over 100 scrolls for public use in the men’s section, and Rabbi Rabinowitz runs a lucrative Bar Mitzvah industry at the Kotel- for boys only. Though one Torah scroll was apprehended at the security entrance and held in custody until the end of the prayer, the women’s group did manage to covertly bring a second Torah scroll to the women’s section of the holy site. Anat Hoffman, Chair of Women of the Wall spoke of the morning’s prayer, “Rabbi Rabinowitz banned one of our Torah scrolls from the Kotel today and we brought in another one. If he bans two Torah scrolls next month, we will bring 10. You cannot stand in between women and our connection to the Torah.”
With great joy the women surrounded Frannie, age 13, and supported her while she read Torah amidst screaming, cursing and shrill whistles, blown by protesters. Claire Tuner, Frannie’s mother, said proudly of her brave daughter, “It is an experience she will remember for the rest of her life. We all will.” Frannie’s father, Mike, added, “I am very proud of my daughters and very glad to be here.”
Police, who in the past have detained protesters and those disturbing the peace during Women of the Wall’s prayer, refused to do so this morning. Police looked on while protesters displayed signs, spit, screamed and blew whistles.
After the conclusion of the prayer, an ultra-Orthodox protester destroyed a Women of the Wall prayer book proudly, in front of a crowd (see a video here). Desecration of prayer books with the name of God in them is explicitly forbidden in Judaism. Last month, despite a peaceful and uneventful prayer service, police detained Women of the Wall’s Executive Director Lesley Sachs for 5 hours, 2 of those hours in interrogation, under the guise of “disturbing the public order.”
Hoffman continues, “A religious man destroyed a prayer book with religious, holy texts in it today at the Kotel. History tells us that where prayers books are permitted to be destroyed, blood may soon after be shed. It is shocking that while this happened, Israel’s Police and Rabbi Rabinowitz stood by and were silent.”
On Women of the Wall:
For 27 years Women of the Wall have led the struggle for women’s right to pray at the Western Wall with tallit, tefillin and the Torah at the Western Wall. After the arrests and detentions of 50 women at the Kotel, and thanks to the work of activists all over the world, in 2013 a Jerusalem District Court judge ruled that Women of the Wall may pray at the holy site, each woman according to her tradition. Unfortunately, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places implemented regulations preventing women from accessing Torah scrolls at the Western Wall. In 2016, spurred on by the insistence of Women of the Wall, partners and activists worldwide, the Israeli government approved a plan to build a third, pluralist section at the Western Wall. The execution of this plan may take some time and until its completion, Women of the Wall continue to pray in the women’s section of the Western Wall, remaining steadfast in the fight for women’s rights to read from the Torah at the Kotel.